Tour Operators: Navigating Through COVID Times
Dominica's tourism sector came to an abrupt standstill when the COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to global travel. Not just stayover visitors but short-term tourists, or cruise tourists were also forbidden to visit.
After over 18 months of living with the pandemic, the world is easing restrictions in order to get the global economy back on track and to give people some semblance of normalcy.
How does this translate to the cruise sector? Well, ships are now returning to the country on a sort of trial phase during the off-season.
Unfortunately, not as many people benefit from the ship's call due to the multitude of restrictions in place and the limited number of passengers aboard the vessel.
The Sun Newspaper reached out to one of the few tour operators which get to transport tourists around the country when the ship comes calling.
"The pandemic made a 100% stop in operations. It was like day and night," said Daniel Nunez, Managing Director of Hibiscus Eco Tours. "As the tour company was 100% dependent on cruise tourists, we did not have any income for one and a half years."
This did not auger well for all employees of Hibiscus Eco Tours, neither of the Hibiscus Valley Hotel, which began operations here in 1998.
"This of course forced us to cut cost where possible and operate a skeleton operation," Nunez said.
Before the pandemic, the company employed about 50 people and ran popular tours such as river tubing on Pagua River, cultural tours in the Kalinago Territory, and Hibiscus Trolley Train just to name a few.
In order to be eligible to give tours the company had to undertake a number of preparatory measures.
"We had to spend a lot of time on training and getting the team ready for operations in a COVID environment," Nunez said. "We have done everything from classroom setting training to on the site dispatch training at the port and the different sites."
The way it works currently is the passengers have to pre-book their tours in order to disembark and visit sites in a bubble environment.
Hibiscus Eco Tours had to build a new welcome facility and bridge at the Jacko Falls. The making of social distancing markers, hand washing stations, and warnings signs was also on the to-do list.
"I think it will come to a feeling of new normal, business as usual quite fast. I am lucky to have such a strong and committed team to work with and they have shown it is definitely possible to welcome guests to our shores again," he said.
In order for the tour operators and guides to work when a ship makes a call, they have to be fully vaccinated. Nunez admits that this is a tricky situation as not all his staff is fully vaccinated.
"Some of them feel like they still want to wait a little bit and see what the season is looking like first," Nunez said.
While there is nothing wrong with this, according to the Managing Director, it will be challenging when the season is in full swing with many more tourists, since there is a two-month wait period between jabs.
It is a common goal among stakeholders that this process goes as smoothly as possible so that more ships can call to the island.
"I think more collaboration can be done between tour operators, where we can create win-win situations. Especially, but not limited to, sharing of guides and buses to further increase the overall capacity of the island," he said.
Nunez is encouraging more people to do what needs to be to get certified to work with the cruise industry. That way the process runs smoother which will prompt more ships to come to the island and more money will be circulated among industry stakeholders.